The move comes two months after two of the biggest names in conferencing and IM services--WebEx Communications and Yahoo--said they'd be integrating their technologies to let users launch WebEx conferences from within Yahoo's Messenger client. But MeetingPlace IM Gateway will differ in that both FaceTime and Latitude are on-premise tools that aren't delivered as services, and users will be able to launch conferences from Yahoo Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, or Microsoft Messenger, as well as business IM tools from IBM Lotus Software, Jabber, Microsoft, Reuters, and Yahoo. "The idea is to let the users use whatever they're comfortable with," says Bill Odell, Latitude's VP of marketing.
Odell says IM is key to conferencing vendors such as Latitude because it's important to integrate conferencing with communications tools that can help employees make more productive use of online meetings. Partnering with a vendor like FaceTime also gives Latitude a leg up on its competitors in terms of flexibility. Most companies readily admit to the use of multiple IM tools within their networks, and they want to make sure their conferencing tools can easily be used by any workers, regardless of what IM client they're using, says Christopher Dean, senior VP of marketing and business development at FaceTime. Dean says companies are looking to tie IM into growing arrays of applications and processes, much the way E-mail has been integrated into key back-end systems. "We believe IM is going to be rapidly adopted in the same way," he says.
Eventually, the two vendors want to give users the ability to detect presence across the various IM networks and then message people directly from within MeetingPlace IM Gateway. But the first release, due later this year, will be focused on launching meetings from IM clients. The product is available for beta use; pricing is expected to start at $15,000 when the product is available commercially.